Tuesday, April 04, 2006

That C word again

There's plenty of chat about consumerism today, isn't there?

I have just finished Duncan MacLaren's Mission Implausible (Paternoster, 2004) and towards the end he identifies various characteristics of a society driven by consumption:

(a) The primacy of individual choice
(the path to personal freedom - a long, long way from obligation, duty or loyalty)
(b) The expectation of novelty
(as the consumer's desires are insatiable, new products are always needed - always innovating; boredom is unacceptable)
(c) A belief in a natural right to abundance
(the consumer can, and does, buy anything they want to keep life full and exciting)
(d) The acceptance of obsolescence
(there is a shelf-life for products, they have a built-in 'use-by date')
(e) The duty to be happy
(pleasure is what the anticipation and act of consumption is all about)
(f) The construction of an identity through consumption, rather than consuming stuff for their usefulness
(the 'label' culture within the clothing industry, for example)
(g) The framing of consumption/shopping as a leisure activity
(as it is in leisure that freedom is found and expressed)
(h) All this is an illusion! Consumers are victims of aggressive, but tacit, forms of social control.

Two reflections come to mind...

(i) Yes, MacLaren does go on to give us a peek at what consumer religion looks like by seeing each of these in church life today. But I am more interested in what you think. How do these features reveal themselves in the way we 'do church', for example? Is this good? bad?

(ii) The Consumer World follows the Producer World, just as the shopping mall has followed the factory as the architectural icon of society (NB - before the factory there was the ... cathedral!). Is it harder to be a Jesus-follower in a Consumer World or a Producer World?

Gee - this is starting to sound like an assignment. Sorry! But seriously, I think a lot about these issues and am really interested in what you think.

By the way - the book is just 200 pages. Absorbing and provocative. I recommend it!

Nice chatting



Andy said...

Paul, I love the blog!

Some thoughts -

I think we (the Church) also believe in and enshrine the values of condumerism, so we believe in "The primacy of individual choice" - 'I will choose my church according to my tastes in music, leadership style, preference for leisure activities (church is OK as long as it doesn't clash with rugby) and where my friends go too; I'll move on when I get bored or church becomes unfashionable or something more exciting starts somewhere else'

I'm disturbed by my own cynicism here but the i-pod is the uber-cool icon of choice. A lot of churches seems to be pursuing the i-god model of worship: take the bits you like and mix it up in a way that suits your lifestyle. The problem with this is God becomes god (fashioned in an image of our making) and so becomes an i-dol!

May God have mercy on us all.

The values of

Paul Windsor said...

That connection between i-pod and i-dol is very clever. I hope it isn't patented...
Sometimes I wonder if an undercurrent to this consumerism, particularly the variant which impacts the church, is that we think that 'personal happiness' is an inalienable right that comes with being human. Such a thought might be inscribed in the American constitution, but it ain't in the Bible and the teaching of Jesus.

eddie said...

I think also when we are quick to look like society in order to make society comfortable when they enter our buildings is a way that consumerism gets into church culture.